The last undefeated season in Division I men’s college basketball history was Indiana’s 1976 run. Since then—thanks to basketball’s increasing popularity and the NCAA Tournament’s expansion to 68 teams—the path to perfection has become all but impossible to complete.
This year’s Kentucky team (30-0) may finally prove it’s up to the task—or at the very least, the likeliest challenger in some time. The Wildcats began the season as the No. 1 team in the country, and have stayed in the top spot all season long, which only rubs in the fact that Columbia has no shot at the Final Four.
The Lions made the 700-mile trip to Rupp Arena in December with little hope. At the time, the Wildcats boasted a perfect 9-0 record, with eight of those wins coming at home. On the other hand, Columbia had chalked up a solid 5-3 record, though its away record was not as encouraging. In short, the Lions had no business being there, and Kentucky knew it.
Far exceeding expectations, the Light Blue posted arguably its best performance of the year, holding the Wildcats to 33 percent shooting—their second-worst performance of the season—and their lowest point total thus far.
Bolstered by junior guard Maodo Lo’s 16 points, the Lions led the Wildcats for nearly 27 minutes, a feat that no other team has matched this season. The Wildcats took their first lead of the game with just over 13 minutes remaining, and did not relinquish it —Kentucky won 56-46.
To date, just six teams have come closer to upending the Wildcats—only two of which played at Rupp Arena.
Of course, the loss appears no different on the schedule for the Lions, but their small mark on history is undeniable both for the Light Blue’s record books and its future. Potential recruits undoubtedly left from that game impressed with head coach Kyle Smith and his staff. The game also gave Columbia great experience on the big stage.
In a less tangible sense, that December night should encourage Columbia fans to root for Kentucky in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. It’s unfortunate that the Lions could not fulfill much of their early-season promise, yet their achievement will only grow larger if the Wildcats do indeed finish the season without a single loss.
As a Kentucky native, I know I’ll be pulling for the Wildcats to complete their run to perfection. However, I will cheer a little more loudly this season as a Columbia fan if the Wildcats not only defeat, but also embarrass Duke, Louisville, and Wisconsin. I want to watch the team that flailed for 27 minutes against Columbia steamroll the best of the best on its way to college basketball’s most impressive feat.
That way, thousands of Columbia students and alums can remember this team as the near David to the great Kentucky’s Goliath, and not as the middling Ivy League team that failed to live up to expectations.
When Kentucky cuts down the nets in March, I’ll be proud to say we were the team who made Kentucky quake.
Teddy Finkelstein is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in economics.